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Wokingham and development

Wokingham has grown rapidly during the last 40 years. In the 1980s, it was the fastest growing town in Europe – an accolade we could have done without! Having developed too fast, one might have hoped for a period of consolidation, but that is not what the Council has in mind. The opening words of the Core Strategy vision are: "By 2026, this Core Strategy will deliver the development necessary to sustain the area's economic growth ...". Wokingham is already one of the more prosperous places in England to live. We aren't going to get any richer. There will just be more people, crowded into the area so that their collective wealth will add up to the Council's desire for 'growth'. The developers love it of course, and are already having a field day at Wokingham's expense.

Development is like a drug

Development is like an addictive drug. When you get hooked you can't stop. You keep hoping that the next fix will make things better but it never does. There might be a temporary relief, but then things get worse again. The only way to solve the problem of over-development is to kick the habit. It may be slow and painful, but at least you do less damage along the way.

Development is racing ahead all around Wokingham. Mostly it is eating up farmland but on the southern edge, south of the railway, it will cause much more damage to the amenity by building on an attractive stretch of countryside crossed by footpaths that are much used by local residents. You can see how attractive this area is (or was if you are reading this in a few years time) by looking at the walks  that I recorded before they were cut through by new roads and surrounded by houses. Why did the Council select this area as the site for thousands of houses? One reason is that they would like to put a road there, and encouraging developers to build lots of houses is a way to get them to pay for some of it.

It's a simple idea. Wokingham is crowded, so build a bypass to take the traffic round it instead. But unfortunately it is too simple. That was the idea behind Wokingham's first bypass, the A329M, in the 1970s. But traffic always grows to fill the new capacity, especially if the road is bought at the cost of more houses with more cars, which generate even more traffic. A lot of that traffic will come into the town, offsetting any benefit of some existing traffic going round the town. You can't build our way out of' the problems caused by previous over development.

Further development of Wokingham may increase its 'GDP', or the footfall in its shops and cafes, and the profits of its estate agents. It might move the Council up a few league tables. But it will also kill what makes Wokingham an attractive place to live.

Who is Wokingham for?

I once attended a council run workshop, supposedly to gather ideas for how to enhance the town, and at one point we were told that the town centre needed to be 'vibrant' so that people would 'stay for 4 hours rather than 20 minutes'. What a depressing thought that the town should be designed for people who can't stand more than a few hours of it. If you live here, like I do, you are not thinking about what to do in Wokingham for the next hour, but day after day, for the next year or the next decade. Do we really want to turn Wokingham from a good place to live into a somewhere only fit for half a day's shopping and coffee sipping? Do we really want it to 'compete with' Reading and Bracknell? Sadly that is the course our Council seems set on, and which those of us who live here will have to endure.

Another sobering thought is that the council that makes planning decisions for Wokingham is not the town council, but the district council (which now misleadingly calls itself Wokingham Borough Council). It controls a 15 mile long swathe of central Berkshire stretching from the border with Oxfordshire in the north (Remenham) to the border with Hampshire in the southwest (Swallowfield). Most of its councillors do not represent the inhabitants of Wokingham, and do not live in Wokingham. Is it any wonder that they don't see things through the eyes of its residents, and presumably see it as somewhere to spend just a few hours between car parks?

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